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The trademark signs of gaslighting may mean you’re a victim
Do you know how to recognize gaslighting? This form of abuse can be difficult to spot, yet it can wreak havoc on the life of its victims. What exactly is gaslighting? How does it present? How can you spot the signs of a potential gaslighter?
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse that typically occurs between intimate partners, family members, close friends, and/or colleagues.
A gaslighter will use manipulative techniques to convince their victim that their perception of reality is false or skewed. This may including altering their recollection of events and causing them to question the very nature of the world around them.
The origin of the term comes from a play and film called “Gaslight.” In it, a sinister husband is attempting to convince his wife that she is losing her mind by altering details of her reality. In one of his devious tricks, he makes the gaslights dim without touching them. Hence, the name of the terrifying abuse tactic.
“I know you never lie to me. I believe you. You’re not lying. It’s worse than lying. You’ve forgotten.”
-Charles Boyer, “Gaslight”
While gaslighting can sometimes be unintentional, the consequences on its victim are not any less severe. Gaslighting can quickly become extremely destructive for a victim’s mental health. They will be forced to perceive a reality that is false from their normal narrative.
As a result, they may feel like they are going insane, lose their grip on reality, withdraw from friends and family, self-harm, and/or detach from their own identity.
What does it look like?
Behaviors related to gaslighting can manifest in many fashions. One of the most consistent qualities of gaslighters is their tendency to fib. They like to convince their victims that they are misinterpreting reality and often present views on situations that are based on their own perceptions rather than the truth. Often times, gaslighters even believe their own lies, no matter how absurd they are.
“Another popular behavior of gaslighters is repetition.”
People who gaslight tend to repeat their lies until they become truths in their victims’ heads. By repeating details that they have fabricated, gaslighters can drill critical points of a scenario into the minds of their victims, convincing them of a reality that they have manifested rather than the truth.
A third shared trait between gaslighters is their tendency to form codependent relationships with their victims to maintain control over their shared realities. Victims become more dependant on their abuser’s perception of reality, and therefore, their relationship.
Victims may find comfort in their abusers (particularly those who offer false apologies or temporary kindness) and experience relief from their anxieties.
What makes a gaslighter?
Gaslighters come in many forms. Additionally, they often become chameleons in situations where their authority over their victim’s reality could be challenged, appearing charismatic and unsuspicious to strangers. Still, while gaslighters aren’t always easy to identify, some of their behaviors are far less elusive than others.
As previously stated, gaslighters compulsively lie, yet often tell fibs that are obviously untrue. They like to instill confusion in their victims to make them question their realities and become dependant on their own perceptions.
They may also call their victims crazy or delusional, throwing in threats against friends and family to keep them in order.
If you fear you may be getting gaslighted but aren’t sure, ask yourself: Do you feel like you’re losing touch with reality? Do you struggle with your self-esteem and self-identity? Do you find yourself making excuses and lying (to yourself and others) for your partner? Do you feel incompetent compared to them?
Answering yes to any of these questions may be a sign that you are a victim of gaslighting and need to get out of your relationship.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
Many of the most skilled gaslighters are also on the psychopathy spectrum.
These three serial killers were some of the worst gaslighters in human history.